Sunday, September 18, 2005

Another NY Times Columnist Nails Bush


September 18, 2005
Message: I Care About the Black Folks
By FRANK RICH

ONCE Toto parts the curtain, the Wizard of Oz can never be the wizard again. He is forever Professor Marvel, blowhard and snake-oil salesman. Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to endure in the American psyche as long as L. Frank Baum's mythic tornado, has similarly unmasked George W. Bush.

The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television. The narrative is just too powerful to be undone now by the administration's desperate recycling of its greatest hits: a return Sunshine Boys tour by the surrogate empathizers Clinton and Bush I, another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show.

Nor can the president's acceptance of "responsibility" for the disaster dislodge what came before. Mr. Bush didn't cough up his modified-limited mea culpa until he'd seen his whole administration flash before his eyes. His admission that some of the buck may stop with him (about a dime's worth, in Truman dollars) came two weeks after the levees burst and five years after he promised to usher in a new post-Clinton "culture of responsibility." It came only after the plan to heap all the blame on the indeed blameworthy local Democrats failed to lift Mr. Bush's own record-low poll numbers. It came only after America's highest-rated TV news anchor, Brian Williams, started talking about Katrina the way Walter Cronkite once did about Vietnam.

Taking responsibility, as opposed to paying lip service to doing so, is not in this administration's gene pool. It was particularly shameful that Laura Bush was sent among the storm's dispossessed to try to scapegoat the news media for her husband's ineptitude. When she complained of seeing "a lot of the same footage over and over that isn't necessarily representative of what really happened," the first lady sounded just like Donald Rumsfeld shirking responsibility for the looting of Baghdad. The defense secretary, too, griped about seeing the same picture "over and over" on television (a looter with a vase) to hide the reality that the Pentagon had no plan to secure Iraq, a catastrophic failure being paid for in Iraqi and American blood to this day.

This White House doesn't hate all pictures, of course. It loves those by Karl Rove's Imagineers, from the spectacularly lighted Statue of Liberty backdrop of Mr. Bush's first 9/11 anniversary speech to his "Top Gun" stunt to Thursday's laughably stagy stride across the lawn to his lectern in Jackson Square. (Message: I am a leader, not that vacationing slacker who first surveyed the hurricane damage from my presidential jet.)

The most odious image-mongering, however, has been Mr. Bush's repeated deployment of African-Americans as dress extras to advertise his "compassion." In 2000, the Republican convention filled the stage with break dancers and gospel singers, trying to dispel the memory of Mr. Bush's craven appearance at Bob Jones University when it forbade interracial dating. (The few blacks in the convention hall itself were positioned near celebrities so they'd show up in TV shots.) In 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign Web site had a page titled "Compassion" devoted mainly to photos of the president with black people, Colin Powell included.

Some of these poses are re-enacted in the "Hurricane Relief" photo gallery currently on display on the White House Web site. But this time the old magic isn't working. The "compassion" photos are outweighed by the cinéma vérité of poor people screaming for their lives. The government effort to keep body recovery efforts in New Orleans as invisible as the coffins from Iraq was abandoned when challenged in court by CNN.

But even now the administration's priority of image over substance is embedded like a cancer in the Katrina relief process. Brazenly enough, Mr. Rove has been officially put in charge of the reconstruction effort. The two top deputies at FEMA remaining after Michael Brown's departure, one of them a former local TV newsman, are not disaster relief specialists but experts in P.R., which they'd practiced as advance men for various Bush campaigns. Thus The Salt Lake Tribune discovered a week after the hurricane that some 1,000 firefighters from Utah and elsewhere were sent not to the Gulf Coast but to Atlanta, to be trained as "community relations officers for FEMA" rather than used as emergency workers to rescue the dying in New Orleans. When 50 of them were finally dispatched to Louisiana, the paper reported, their first assignment was "to stand beside President Bush" as he toured devastated areas.

The cashiering of "Brownie," whom Mr. Bush now purports to know as little as he did "Kenny Boy," changes nothing. The Knight Ridder newspapers found last week that it was the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, not Mr. Brown, who had the greater authority to order federal agencies into service without any request from state or local officials. Mr. Chertoff waited a crucial, unexplained 36 hours before declaring Katrina an "incident of national significance," the trigger needed for federal action. Like Mr. Brown, he was oblivious to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the convention center, confessing his ignorance of conditions there to NPR on the same day that the FEMA chief famously did so to Ted Koppel. Yet Mr. Bush's "culture of responsibility" does not hold Mr. Chertoff accountable. Quite the contrary: on Thursday the president charged Homeland Security with reviewing "emergency plans in every major city in America." Mr. Chertoff will surely do a heck of a job.

WHEN there's money on the line, cronies always come first in this White House, no matter how great the human suffering. After Katrina, the FEMA Web site directing charitable contributions prominently listed Operation Blessing, a Pat Robertson kitty that, according to I.R.S. documents obtained by ABC News, has given more than half of its yearly cash donations to Mr. Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. If FEMA is that cavalier about charitable donations, imagine what it's doing with the $62 billion (so far) of taxpayers' money sent its way for Katrina relief. Actually, you don't have to imagine: we already know some of it was immediately siphoned into no-bid contracts with a major Republican donor, the Fluor Corporation, as well as with a client of the consultant Joe Allbaugh, the Bush 2000 campaign manager who ran FEMA for this White House until Brownie, Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate, was installed in his place.

It was back in 2000 that Mr. Bush, in a debate with Al Gore, bragged about his gubernatorial prowess "on the front line of catastrophic situations," specifically citing a Texas flood, and paid the Clinton administration a rare compliment for putting a professional as effective as James Lee Witt in charge of FEMA. Exactly why Mr. Bush would staff that same agency months later with political hacks is one of many questions that must be answered by the independent investigation he and the Congressional majority are trying every which way to avoid. With or without a 9/11-style commission, the answers will come out. There are too many Americans who are angry and too many reporters who are on the case. (NBC and CNN are both opening full-time bureaus in New Orleans.) You know the world has changed when the widely despised news media have a far higher approval rating (77 percent) than the president (46 percent), as measured last week in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Like his father before him, Mr. Bush has squandered the huge store of political capital he won in a war. His Thursday-night invocation of "armies of compassion" will prove as worthless as the "thousand points of light" that the first President Bush bestowed upon the poor from on high in New Orleans (at the Superdome, during the 1988 G.O.P. convention). It will be up to other Republicans in Washington to cut through the empty words and image-mongering to demand effective action from Mr. Bush on the Gulf Coast and in Iraq, if only because their own political lives are at stake. It's up to Democrats, though they show scant signs of realizing it, to step into the vacuum and propose an alternative to a fiscally disastrous conservatism that prizes pork over compassion. If the era of Great Society big government is over, the era of big government for special interests is proving a fiasco. Especially when it's presided over by a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch.

What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.

15 comments:

Holly in Cincinnati said...

Yep, I read this. I've posted many of Frank Rich's articles.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd must have the IRS auditing them monthly.
I deeply admire their willingness to publicly say what many just think to themselves.

in.dog.neato said...

I think that this whole affair is going to become Chimp's Waterloo. How fitting.

And the transparancy that the public is looking for in their government's dealings is becoming all too apparent, but instead it's giving a full view of the rampant incompetence and ineptitude of the people running this country into the ground...for a chance, all the good people of this country who re-elected the little guy are beginning to see that all he's worth is naught but smoke and mirrors.

Chimp couldn't keep us safe from a volkswagen full of clowns.

It's unfortunate, though that there has been so little coverage of the devastation from Katrina on smaller, poorer cities just across the state line in Mississippi. At least there are buildings still standing in New Orleans. Entire towns in Mississippi were wiped out. Completely. My cousin, who lives just oiutside Gulfport in Saucier was very very lucky. THe rest of the town didn't fare so well.

Why are we focused almost completely on New Orleans whlie the actual brunt of the hurricane hit Biloxi, Gulfport, Saucier, and points east on the Gulf Coast? It's beginning to seem like these towns and cities are only bylines in the big picture.

Karen Zipdrive said...

In.dog.neato asked: "Why are we focused almost completely on New Orleans while the actual brunt of the hurricane hit Biloxi, Gulfport, Saucier, and points east on the Gulf Coast?"

I think because New Orleans is many people's frequent vacation destination and it's the biggest city to be hit.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in America, making it one of the least important states in the news media's eyes, in terms of viewers giving a damn about it.
When I think Mississippi, I think of Trent Lott mourning the loss of racist Strom Thurmond, the confederate flag, and the shrimpy-smelling casinos in Biloxi having the slowest drink service and changemakers on Earth.
New Orleans for me is the only reason to ever go near the Deep South.
I think many people feel that way.

in.dog.neato said...

true, karen...i've often questioned why in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks my cousin would continue to live there...i've never really cared for the Deep South at all myself...New Orleans is alright at best, but only in the dead of winter when it's -23 out and Lake Superior has turned into the world's largest hockey rink....but still...

Lulu Maude said...

Ahhh... wasn't that a good one? E. and I have made a Sunday tradition of reading FR aloud, simply rolling around in the delight of his words and ideas.

Whatta writer!

Lulu Maude said...

p.s. I spent some time in '95 at Ole Miss at the Institute for Southern Culture, a program founded by Bill Ferris, who went on to become Director of the NEH under Clinton. I really came to appreciate the culture of the South (and no, that's not an oxymoron). We went to visit the Delta Blues Museum, the Civil Rights Museum... even went for a night at Junior Kimbrough's Juke Joint before it burned down. We saw incredible folk art, met with blues musicians, anthropologists, geographers, sociologists... went to Faulkner's house... on and on. I really appreciate Mississippi and have thought often of the folks whose lives have been so disrupted there. Some incredible people have come from there... we must remember their needs as we pitch in with help for that region.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Intellectuals and academicians can find a wealth of cultural and literary treasures down South.
Eudora Welty was from Mississippi and she could write the hell out of a book.
But for chuckleheads like me, I get too antsy in all that humidity, and listening to those syrupy-slow accents makes me want to either yawn or scream.
I love the spirituality and common sense of black people down South, but the white folks make me nervous.
Too many crackers down there are still bitching about outcome of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Racism is alive and well down there, and as long as crackers like Trent Lott are still running things, the deep South will continue to be the hellhole it is.
Watch the Bushian types start the landgrab down in New Orleans. The 9th Ward will become a sea of Starbucks, Bed, Bath and Beyonds and luxury condos...for white folks only.
The blacks whose N'awlins homes were destroyed by Katrina will end up in shitty public housing in Metarie or Gretna.
They'll just ride the bus to work in New Orleans- to work for cracker-owned tourist joints.

Karen Zipdrive said...

P.S.
I see President Clinton has come down hard on the incompetence of Dubya and his crony-filled FEMA.
I almost feel sorry for Bush 41. His son is an international embarrassment and his lack of even basic common sense has become glaringly apparent.
He's Chauncy the gardener, meets Forrest Gump, meets Il Duce.
Plus he's a dry drunk.

JimBob said...

Karen said: "...Too many crackers down there are still bitching about outcome of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation..."

I was stationed in southern Arkansas in the early '80s and had the opportunity to share a bottle with a born-and-bred southern boy. As the bottle got emptier and his tongue got looser, he confided in me that he KNEW that The South (his capital letters, not mine) was going to "do it again".

When I asked him what this meant, he went on to expound on how nice it would be when all "them blacks" were back where they belonged: "working for decent white folk". The conversation went downhill from there.

Days later, I questioned the guy in a joking manner and ribbed him about his drunk talk that night. Imagine my surprise when he whispers to me that it wasn't drunk talk - he believed every word he said.

Scary part was that this was a guy I had been working with for a couple years and who had a PhD in Chemistry and wasn't a dummy.

This led to my own little unsanctioned research project. Whenever I had the opportunity to ply one of my southern buddies with booze, I'd try to get their opinions about that particular subject...and I bet you can guess the results. Most of the guy who were born and bred there in southern AR, felt similar. That they were "better than" and they deserved more than African-Americans, (who, by the way, were destroying this country from the inside out).

I see I've written a novella. I'll stop. This is a topic that gets my goat whenever it comes up. Bigotry and prejudice, whether it's practiced on a small scale like in my Arkansas story, or on a HUGE scale, as in what the Repubes regularly do, are two of the things (IMHO) that keeps this country from being GREAT!

'nuff said.

in.dog.neato said...

scary...and not surprising jimbob...it wasn't THAT long ago that the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing...40 years ago now? That's barely a generation.

Racism as of late has pretty much been forced underground in the mainstream, mainly by the media who has the tendancy to paint the oft-outlandish and high profile white supremacist groups like the KKK as being ignorant white hicksters and crackpots whose idealistic values come from the mod 1800's when there WAS such thing as slavery in amerikka.

I can speak from experience on this, as the large majority of my family comes from Arkansas, and have a few relations who live in Mississippi...transplants of course.

Sometimes though it seems they're almost ignorant of their prejudices...they're alomst instinctual. When you grow up in a society where that type of thinking exists, it's difficult to change without completely removing yourself from the situation.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Like I said- Southern crackers make me nervous because of their innate racism.

dusty said...

ok;..i had this one w/my morning coffee today..it rings sad but so damn true..and I always knew Chertoff was the screwup more so than Brown..the repubs dont know how to handle the news media's barrage of images and questions other than whining that its "just not fair"..bastards all.

in.dog.neato said...

yeah...we all know chertoff is just another good buddy crony charity case...i hardly think there's a competent brain at work in the higher echelon of this administration...

I read on yahoo this morning that Fran Townsend is going to be leading the Katrina Inquiry...anyone have any idea what she's about other than what you can pull off of wikipedia?

Karen Zipdrive said...

In-dog:

The NY Times said this about Fran Townseld:
Published: September 20, 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 - President Bush has named Frances Fragos Townsend, his domestic security adviser, to lead an internal White House inquiry into the administration's performance in handling Hurricane Katrina, Scott McClellan, Mr. Bush's spokesman, said Monday.

Mr. McClellan said Ms. Townsend's job would be "to follow through on the president's commitment to determine what went wrong, what went right and lessons learned."

Ms. Townsend, a former federal prosecutor, has undertaken a number of sensitive and high-profile tasks for Mr. Bush, most recently overseeing the reorganization of the nation's intelligence services after the intelligence failures about Iraq's weapons capabilities..."

Okay, so we know she's another idiot & Bush sycophant.